STANFORD, Calif. - - Riding unified team defense and poise under pressure, Belmont University men's basketball defeated defending NIT Champion Stanford, 70-62, Sunday night.
The pristine Stanford campus was abuzz, as the Cardinal women's basketball team defeated No. 1 Baylor Friday and the Cardinal football team defeated No. 2 Oregon Saturday.
The Bruins, who returned west for the first time since the 2011 NCAA Tournament, faced a Cardinal team that held the nation's longest active win streak of eight games dating back to last March.
Moreover, Stanford boasted a roster with five players of 6-9 or taller, not to mention the versatile and active 6-7 forward Josh Huestis.
Stanford elected to start its "big" frontcourt of Huestis, Dwight Powell and Stefan Nastic, posing a daunting challenge for Belmont.
But from the start, the Bruins showcased trademark execution and heady play. In addition, Belmont pressured the Cardinal at every turn, contesting every pass and every shot.
Four points from senior Ian Clark (Memphis, Tenn.) gave the Bruins an early 8-6 lead. Powell, who scored a career-high 27 points against San Francisco in the season opener, picked up two personal fouls in the first 3:48 of the game, forcing him to the sidelines.
Belmont forced six Stanford turnovers in the first six minutes and held the Cardinal scoreless for a four minute stretch.
A short jumper from senior Kerron Johnson (Huntsville, Ala.) increased the lead to 10-6 seven minutes in.
Then consecutive interior baskets from junior Blake Jenkins (Knoxville, Tenn.), senior Trevor Noack (Keller, Texas), junior J.J. Mann (Smyrna, Ga.) and senior Brandon Baker (Milford, Ohio) pushed the margin to 18-10 midway through the first half.
After Stanford cut the margin to four, consecutive three-pointers from freshman Craig Bradshaw (Franklin, Tenn.) and Mann gave Belmont a 26-16 lead with 6:01 left in the half.
Belmont seemed on the verge of breaking free, but several promising interior opportunities were wiped away on blocked shots from Huestis.
The Bruins maintained a modest lead, and used another Bradshaw three-pointer to take a 33-25 lead at halftime.
Belmont shot 38 percent (14-for-37) from the field in the opening 20 minutes – including 3-for-11 from three-point distance. The Bruins held Stanford to 31 percent shooting while forcing nine Cardinal turnovers.
The Bruins made a strong push to open the second half, scoring eight of the first 10 points. Two Clark three-pointers sandwiched around a Noack basket gave Belmont a 41-27 lead with 18:11 left.
That's when things got rather unusual for Stanford. Powell, saddled with two personal fouls early, picked up his third foul with 17:32 left when called for charging into Noack.
43 seconds later, Powell was whistled for his fourth personal foul battling Baker for a rebound. Before Stanford could get a substitute to the scorer's table for Powell, the Bruins were allowed to resume play.
On the subsequent possession, Clark missed a contested driving layin but Baker swooped in for another weak side rebound. Baker proceeded to power towards the basket and collided with a recovering and off-balance Powell. Powell was called for his fifth personal foul on the play and was done for the evening with 16:37 left.
Powell picking up three fouls in 55 seconds sent shock waves through Maples Pavilion and completely changed the complexion of the remainder of play.
That being said, Stanford received clutch contributions off its bench to methodically work back into the game. After two Jenkins free throws gave Belmont a 44-34 lead, two free throws and a Christian Sanders three-pointer trimmed the margin in half.
Foul trouble plagued both teams in the second half, as the Bruins and Cardinal would each be in the bonus less than nine minutes into the half.
After Johnson bumped the lead back to seven, the talented Huntsville native picked up his fourth personal foul with 11:02 left, forcing the Bruin floor general to the bench.
Stanford took advantage of Johnson's absence. After an acrobatic Jenkins tip-in gave Belmont a 48-41 lead, two Andy Brown free throws capped an 8-0 Stanford run to give the hosts a 49-48 edge with 8:24 to go.
It was Stanford's first lead since 6-4.
With momentum starting to shift and Belmont in desperate need of an offensive lift, the senior backcourt rose to the occasion.
Johnson and Clark combined on three straight baskets, the final of which – a deep Clark three-pointer – gave Belmont a 55-53 lead with 5:34 left.
As fate would have it, Belmont would not trail again.
After one Brown free throw cut the margin to one, Noack would deliver arguably the biggest play of his career; a determined left-handed finish through contact and conventional three-point play with 5:09 left to push the Bruin lead to 58-54.
Following a defensive stop, Clark broke down the Cardinal defense and set up Jenkins for an easy two and a six point lead with 4:37 to go.
Two Chasson Randle free throws got Stanford within four before Johnson responded with a short jumper to bump the lead back to six with 2:54 remaining.
After an exchange of empty trips, Jenkins would steal the ball from Bright and allow Belmont to regain possession with under two minutes left.
Johnson took it from there, scoring another twisting layin to make the score 64-57 with 1:15 left.
Belmont made six of eight free throws in the final 59 seconds to secure the victory.
All told, Belmont shot 36 percent (25-for-69) from the field – including 6-for-23 from three-point distance. The Bruins grabbed 15 offensive rebounds and forced 17 Cardinal turnovers.
Belmont also held the talented Stanford backcourt of Randle and Bright to 2-for-21 shooting.
Clark paced four Bruins in double figures with 15 points. Johnson had 14 points, while Jenkins added 11 points and five rebounds. Noack had 10 points and six rebounds.
Mann provided nine points and a team-high eight rebounds.
Sanders and Nastic led Stanford (3-1) with 11 points each.
Belmont (3-0) returns to action Wednesday, Nov. 21 against Alaska Anchorage in the 2012 Carrs/Safeway Great Alaska Shootout. Tip-off is set for 10 p.m. Alaska time (1 a.m. CT Thursday).
The game will be broadcast live on the CBS Sports Network, with the live-play-by-play of Voice of the Bruins Kevin Ingram on the Bruin Sports Network.